A brush fire came dangerously close to burning through several Bonita Creek homes Wednesday after a fire started late in the afternoon on a day where the entire state was under a wind advisory and red-flag warning.
Thanks to the quick response of nearly every area fire agency, including a 60-person crew from the Forest Service along with a helicopter, the fire was contained to 2 acres and no structures were damaged.
“If it was not for the Forest Service helicopter, we probably would have lost at least one structure,” said Water Wheel Fire and Medical District Chief Ron Sattelmaier. “They played a key role in controlling the fire and keeping it from structures.”
Residents reported seeing heavy smoke in the 300 block of Big Al’s Run around 3 p.m. It was initially reported that a garage was on fire, but crews found only brush burning on a vacant lot.
“There was so much smoke you could not tell,” he said.
With winds whipping through at 30-35 mph, the fire was quickly moving toward homes and structures.
Luckily, “we had lots of help,” he said.
Since mid-April a helicopter has been stationed at the Payson airport, ready to respond to wildfires at a moment’s notice.
“It was very timely,” he said.
With the help of the Forest Service, Payson, Hellsgate, Pine-Strawberry and Christopher-Kohls, crews had the forward spread of the fire stopped in an hour and the fire out by 7 p.m.
“The wind was the biggest factor in hampering us to get it out quicker,” he said. “We had 30-35 mph winds. In a wildland situation that is pretty dangerous. Visibility was very, very poor.”
The fire burned right up to a motor home and threatened several structures.
The Forest Service used a dip site to refill the helicopter’s 200-gallon water basket a quarter mile away. Water Wheel Fire maintains it for situations just like this. The water was dropped near several nearby homes.
Sattelmaier thanked everyone for their quick response, which he says saved several homes.
A person using a welder caused the fire.
Bonita Creek Estates is a small community located northeast of Payson on private land inside the national forest boundaries. It was the site of the 1990 Dude Fire, which killed six members of a fire crew.